If you were old enough in the late 1960s to watch Dark Shadows you enjoyed one of the earliest entries into Urban Fantasy on television. The show ran from 1966 through 1971 and was billed as a gothic soap opera. (I was sneaky enough at age 5 to find ways to watch without my parents catching me.)
Every day at 4 p.m., about when teenagers were getting home from school, that eerie theme song would begin playing. And make no mistake about it, those teenage viewers were the demographic that made up Dark Shadows largest fan base.
Dark Shadows Starts Slow
The show got off to a slow start. It started out as the story of Victoria Winters, an orphan, who travels to Collinsport, Maine. Victoria seeks to unravel the mystery of her past. Those early episodes spent excessive time introducing the characters and their backstories.
Victoria came to Collinsport to work for the Collins family. Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, in self-imposed exile within the walls of the mansion for 18 years, her widowed brother Roger Collins, her daughter Carolyn Stoddard and Roger’s son, David.
It wasn’t until late in the first season (1967 to be precise) that the show finally found its stride. The series embraced the supernatural, introduced Barnabas Collins and, as a result, it really took off.
The Vampire Barnabas
Collins was a cousin from the U.K. come to visit. But we would soon find out that he was much more than that. Barnabas was an ancestor of Elizabeth and Roger, cursed to be a vampire by the witch Angelique. We also see an interesting connection to young Miss Victoria.
Barnabas’s struggles to free himself from his curse. He also battles the continuing intrigues of his witch tormentor and this made for a great series to watch. It can still be found in syndication and even on DVD.
Note: When I have $350 lying about to spend frivolously I’m getting this amazing boxed DVD set: Dark Shadows: The Complete Series. The series started out in black & white and transitioned to color. To me, the black & white episodes were better as that medium added to the gothic feel.
Moving To The Big Screen
In 1970 a big screen film, House of Dark Shadows, followed by 1971’s, Night of Dark Shadows, was released. To allow certain actors to be available for these movies, their characters were written out of the TV show, including Jonathan Frid who played Barnabas. The missing characters, a disastrous storyline that flopped and the fact that the teenage viewers weren’t the ones making the buying decisions that advertisers were looking to influence, led to the demise of the series in 1971.
Still, for fans of urban fantasy, indulging in 1,225 half-hour long episodes of this classic is a treat. Unlike most of the soaps from back then, Dark Shadows is the only one to have all of its episodes preserved.
Ignore Burton’s Box Office Bust
For younger readers, the original series is nothing like Tim Burton’s 2012 adaptation. Seriously, it seems like Burton lives to mess up old classics. (Hello, Planet of the Apes, 2001: Charlies and the Chocolate Factory, 2005: and Alice in Wonderland, 2010) Burton tried to make a comedy and it flopped. The original is wonderfully dark, scary and full of urban fantasy and all of its familiars.